Reaching the playoffs for the first time last season was a major step for the Columbus Blue Jackets. They don’t appear capable of a return trip in 2009-10, but winning consecutive games for the first time in nearly two months has coach Ken Hitchcock seeing some similarities.
The Blue Jackets seek their third three-game winning streak Sunday night when they host the Dallas Stars.
Columbus (17-20-9) posted a franchise-record 92 points last season, qualifying for the playoffs for the first time. Despite being swept in the opening round by Detroit, the Blue Jackets appeared to be showing promise in becoming a contender in the Western Conference.
That hasn’t happened, as Columbus is well outside the top eight.
The Blue Jackets have fallen further back in this season’s playoff race thanks to a 3-14-7 stretch that included a 3-1 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. They’ve followed that by winning 4-2 at Edmonton on Thursday before beating Calgary 3-2 the following night to post consecutive wins for the first time since a three-game run from Nov. 13-19.
“We’re starting to look like last year’s team,” Hitchcock said. “You never know, other teams have come from far back. If we can keep playing well and get this thing to .500 then we have the big home schedule in February, March, and April, we can still do some damage.”
Antoine Vermette(notes) has been a big part of last the two wins, getting two goals and two assists after posting three and five, respectively, over the previous 17 contests. The center has 13 goals, and his 35 points rank second on the team behind captain Rick Nash’s(notes) 41.
Nash, who also leads Columbus with 19 goals, hasn’t found the net in eight games for his longest drought since a nine-game run from Oct. 24-Nov. 8, 2008. The left wing, however, has managed five assists during his current slump.
He has eight goals and four assists in his last 11 games against Dallas.
Hitchcock may continue using Mathieu Garon(notes) after he stopped 44 of 48 shots over the last two games in place of reigning Calder Trophy winner Steve Mason(notes). Garon is 6-5-3 with a 2.71 goals-against average and a shutout in 20 games with 13 starts.
Mason is 1-7-1 with a 3.38 GAA in his last nine games, and has been pulled twice.
The Blue Jackets have split two meetings with the Stars this season in Dallas. They’re 4-9-3 against them in Columbus, losing the last four (0-1-3).
The Stars are opening a three-game road trip looking to show some improvement as the visitor. They’ve dropped six in a row on the road and are 1-6-3 in their last 10 away.
Like Mason, Marty Turco(notes) has struggled recently for Dallas by going 1-5-2 with a 3.91 GAA in his last eight on the road. However, he’s yet to lose in his career at Nationwide Arena, posting a record of 8-0-0 with a 1.96 GAA.
The Stars, 10th in the West, enter this matchup with some positive momentum after beating the New York Islanders 4-3 on Friday in Dallas.
Eriksson has five goals and four assists in five games against Columbus.